In A Clockwork Orange, the viewer is introduced to Alex, a psychopathic teen who delights in ultra-violent and horrific acts toward humanity. Amoral and devoid of empathy, he tortures, beats, rapes and murders for pleasure and finds entertainment at the expense of humanity. Alex is a heartless monster whom you secretly hope is subjected to some equally horrible punishment as a sort of compensation for his victims.
Alex's desire for evil is ended after he is subjected to the Ludovico treatment, which, by forcing him to watch ghastly crimes against humanity and injecting him with nausea-inducing substances, causes him to be repulsed at the thought of violence. Like one of Pavlov's dogs, Alex is conditioned to be repulsed by violence; the mere thought of it causes intense, debilitating physical pain.
In an effort to protect society from Alex’s horrific “fun”, they eliminate his desire to do so by ensuring his body’s agonizing protest. In doing so, they prevent him from committing further crimes against society, yet they strip him of his ability to choose. He must proceed through life, unable to defend himself, unable to fight, unable to see or think about sex, unable to witness crime, without being subjected to uncontrollable, crippling pain.
The two sides:
Prison Chaplain: Choice! The boy has not a real choice, has he? Self-interest, the fear of physical pain drove him to that grotesque act of self-abasement. The insincerity was clear to be seen. He ceases to be a wrongdoer. He ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice.
Minister: Padre, there are subtleties! We are not concerned with motives, with the higher ethics. We are concerned only with cutting down crime and with relieving the ghastly congestion in our prisons. He will be your true Christian, ready to turn the other cheek, ready to be crucified rather than crucify, sick to the heart at the thought of killing a fly. Reclamation! Joy before the angels of God! The point is that it works.
On a social level, the punishment is a success and Alex no longer poses a threat to society. On an individual level, it is argued that Alex has lost a crucial part of his humanity.
Is choice an innate human right? Does stripping a man of his choice strip him of his humanity? Is it better to create a robot capable of morality solely due to fear of physical pain in order to protect the rest of society? Do Alex’s horrific crimes justify his punishment?
How is it that by the end of the movie, you identify with and sympathize with a depraved sociopath? Why do viewers also feel violated when Alex is stripped of his *choice* to be good or evil? Why are the effects of the Ludovico treatment so disturbing? Doesn’t Alex deserve it? Why do we protect our choice and individual freedom with such fervor?